Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Night Reflections

Today's Top Story:
At the time of this posting, 1123 US soldiers have died in Iraq.
Source: http://icasualties.org/oif/

(Why is this "The Top Story"?

1. Each of these soldiers died in a war that was initiated by a President who intentionally misled the American people about the reasons for war in Iraq, (and
2. Like Gen. Anthony Zinni, I believe that this has got to be more important than "American Idol").

Today's Feature: Election Night Reflections

It's been nearly a month since I've posted anything to the blog. Two reasons: Lots of other things clamoring for my attention, and a sense that others had more important things to say...and a forum to say them.

Now it's election night. The campaigns are effectively over. All the claims and counterclaims come down to one night of watching the scores accumulate on the tv screen. We voted at 6:10am this morning, and there was already a line forming...in the rain. By the time we finished, the line stretched out the door. We saw lots of our neighbors and co-workers. It was Will's first opportunity to vote - he turned 18 late in October. We went out to breakfast afterwards.

Tonight Mary read me an email she received from our friend Rosa in Ft. Lauderdale. I asked her to pass it to me, and I've copied it verbatim below. I think it provides a fitting summary to this campaign period. During the campaign I have been rabidly partisan, and have made no secret of my views in this forum. Tomorrow I can be elated (if my party wins) or deflated (if they lose). But for the moment tonight, I'll reflect on what the democratic process really represents, and find comfort and strength in Rosa's commentary. It's good to have friends who are so coherent.


Ever since I became a citizen of this country, in 1994, I have voted in every election available to me. I have found myself in tears many of those times. I don't think it was maudlin sentimentality. It is just that when you live with 220 or so million other people in one country, you realize you are a little speck, yet on election day, I have always felt like I was somebody. That my voice was getting added in and counted for something. The elections of 2000 and the way in which the final decision was made about who our next president would be were strangely--quietly--devastating to me. There had been other elections where the people I voted for lost. I like to think that I am not a sore loser and am respectful of the democratic process. But in those weeks following the 2000 elections, for the first time since I immigrated, I lost trust and hope in this country. I didn't allow myself to think about it much. I muttered here and there, but mainly, I tuned out the deep and real despair I felt, and went about the business of living my life as a citizen of this country with as much integrity as I could.

In June of this year, the despair turned to determination--determination that to the extent possible, I would engage the political processes of this country to make sure that whatever happened next, I was not a passive observer--and receiver--but rather, that I could go to bed at night with some sense of certainty that I had done my bit to make this the country what I believe it is capable of being. I began to make financial contributions to the candidate I support. I began to find ways to volunteer--in my precinct, by having a national staffer stay in my house for the last 2 weeks leading up to the election, by voting early, and finally, this morning, by serving as a poll watcher, an observer in a predominantly African American precinct up in one of the poorer sections of Fort Lauderale.

What I saw this morning made all the effort worthwhile--no matter what the outcome of these elections. As poll observers, I and my counterpart were given chairs to sit on where we could get a birds-eye view of the polling area w/ 6 machines. The polling area was nicely air conditioned and my seat comfortable. There were close to 200 people waiting in line when I came in at quarter till 7 (am) and the sun rose hot, bright, and strong early. Most people had to wait 2 hours outside. I wish I could convey to you the quiet dignity, determination to vote and polite patience. One young man's voter registration papers had gotten terribly messed up and he kept getting bounced back and forth between precinct 4K and precinct 5K. He was angry. He was visibly upset. But he did not stop trying until he got to the voting booth and when he did the whole room cheered for him. Another woman had waited for 2 hours in the hot sun. She was 90 years old, thin as a rail and frail as a leaf at the end of the autumn. I gave her my seat where she waited another hour to cast her vote. Her daughter wanted to help her at the voting booth but she said she could do it herself and shuffled over while the poll workers and watchers held our breath not sure she'd reach her destination.

I had come with some fairly serious concerns about the role my counterpart from the other political party would play in terms of accosting and challenging voters. He's a good ole boy from Georgia, served 2 tours of duty in Vietnam and came from Georgia to be a deep sea fishing guide inFlorida. That business failed and when he didn't make it he got into the business of Real Estate appraising. We all make our compromises and settle with our disappointments, don't we? He was polite. He was not threatening to anybody. About 40 minutes after the polls opened, he looked at me and said, "these folks aren't cheating anyone around here. Hell--they're to busy surviving to have time for that. I think neither of us should be here." It broke the ice and helped us both because we were able to cross check w/ each other what our counts were (that was part of the drill). After bantering back and forth for a good part of the morning, he asked me what my job was. I told him I was the Director of Religious Ed at a church. My answer left him speechless for about 20 minutes. He literally turned away from me and got busy doing something else. Then he came back and asked me: "Is that a Christian Church you work for?" And I said, "yes." "So how do you reconcile being a Christian and voting for your candidate." We talked some about that. I don't believe I changed his position any more than he changed mine. I want to hope that I left some cognitive dissonance for him--I could certainly hold my own quoting Scripture and and using theological arguments for my position. Ultimately, we changed the subject back to safer matters like "ain't it awful how the Dolphins are doing." We parted ways wishing each other luck. Perhaps more than anything, I deeply appreciated the fact that we could have fundamental disagreements with each other and still have some sense of kinship. Some sense that we are not bitter enemies. My sadness, however, is that in the larger political discussion of our time, "us and them" seem to keep cancelling each other out, instead of creating something bigger and better than either side is capable of being.

The people who voted in the precinct where I kept watch are not politically powerful. Neither am I. Neither is my friend, the Georgia goober. But I believe that today changed us all and we changed the country back a little in the direction of who it is that we are capable of being. We all made sacrifices. We all cared enough to be there. We all shared a determination to be heard, to have our votes count and to have a fair process. Maybe this is like the kingdom of heaven. From the tiniest of mustard seeds...

I am proud to be an American.

Much love, Rosa

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